Local News

Monday, Jan 28 2013 09:11 AM

Community rallies for family

BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

A Bakersfield couple who recently moved to Missouri lost their 16-year-old autistic son in a fire last Thursday, along with their home and essentially all their possessions. Now friends and family in Bakersfield are raising money to help.

Alan Hall and his wife Danielle Hatfield moved from Bakersfield to Missouri last October with their family, including Danielle's 16-year-old son, Ian. They also have a 14-year-old son, Adam. Ian was home schooled, and last Thursday, as Danielle took Adam and a niece to the school bus stop, a fire started in the house, likely caused by the wood stove, Danielle told The Californian Saturday night.

Ian was upstairs, and Alan tried to save him by getting him to come to the window to escape, then by trying to reach him with a ladder. Ian evidently made it out the window, but fell through a weakened part of the roof into a hotspot of the fire, according to Danielle and local news reports in Houston, Mo.

The house burned to the ground. Danielle said she and her family were spending the weekend in a motel, paid for by the local Red Cross, and would be looking for an apartment starting Monday. She said they planned to stay in Missouri, where she has family, including a brother and her father. They built the house that they lost on Thursday.

Danielle said she and Alan were awed by the support they've received, both from friends in Bakersfield and new acquaintances in Missouri.

"You know that you know people and you know you've been a part of things ... but the full magnitude of how many people are behind you, that blows us away. That's how I'm getting through. It's just been really powerful."

Danielle said that she and Alan plan to have a memorial service for Ian in Bakersfield sometime in the next month, but are now working on getting set up again in Missouri.

"The community here has been amazing to us. They're really opening their arms up to us, making us feel like we're not outsiders," she said.

Alan singed his hair in the fire, and when he went to a local hairstylist, she refused to let him pay after hearing about the fire, Danielle said. Local Red Cross volunteers have helped the family with food, clothes, money and transportation.

"Obviously, they (Red Cross volunteers) know people in these types of circumstances ... you can't even function," she said.

Seven Bates, a friend in Bakersfield who helped get the fundraising effort going, said he's trying to get the word out to help a very special family who have lost "absolutely everything."

"Everyone he meets realizes this is a great guy," he said of Alan. "Danielle is such a sweet woman. She's just heartbroken."

Bates said Alan and Danielle are caring people with a large circle of friends in Bakersfield. They moved to Missouri following Alan's retirement last year from a job with Kern County.

"When they left, we felt Bakersfield got a little less special," Bates said. "They were that important."

"There's nothing we can do to bring Ian back, so what we're trying to do is just give them enough breathing room where they can cope," Bates said. "We're just trying to provide them with a place for them where they can land."

As of Saturday night, the effort had raised almost $4,000, including several $500 and $1,000 donations from anonymous sources.

Danielle said she learned perhaps more from her son than he did from her. He was giving and sweet, she said, and though he didn't know how to comfort people, he did sense when someone was upset. So he'd make them something to eat, such as blueberry pancakes which he'd proudly learned how to cook from his grandfather.

"That made him feel good, made him feel useful," Danielle said. ""I just want people to know how amazing he was."

In a biographical essay Ian wrote when he was 14, he said, "I have hopes and dreams for the future. Right now, I am writing a book about being a Power Ranger, and I hope to finish it soon. When I grow up, I hope to become either a toy shop owner, a video game designer or a video game tester. ... I think, in a lot of ways, I am pretty much like any other kid. But everyone's different, and there's only one me."

The site set up by Alan and Danielle's friends is at rememberingian.org/.

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